Title: Hold Fast
Text: Matthew 24:15-28
FCF: We often struggle enduring in our trust of Christ and sound doctrine
Prop: Because great physical and spiritual hardship will accompany the end of all things, we must endure to the end.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 24. Even prior to being sick, I debated back and forth on whether I should preach a special message for Easter or simply continue in Matthew. After looking over the content of this message, it became apparent, that the events of Easter serve as a wonderful backdrop for the message that Jesus teaches His disciples in the Olivet discourse.
[Slide 2] As a reminder, I have included a couple slides here which gives a few perspectives on this discourse and how those actually pan out into different end times views.
I should point out that as I have and will continue to bring up passages that are difficult for these perspectives to deal with, they do have answers to each passage. Don’t think I have found the verse that destroys their position.
[Slide 3] In verses 3-14, Jesus told his disciples 9 signs of the coming of the end of the world. I expressed my personal viewpoint, that each of these signs with the exception of the last two, were quite ordinary and have always been. The last two signs however, are actually glorious promises. Promises that those who are followers of Christ will endure, and that the gospel will be proclaimed to every people group.
This was Jesus’ start of answering their questions, “what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the world”, but today He will pause that answer and answer the first question.
[Slide 4] I’m in Matthew 24 and I’ll be reading from the NET starting in verse 15. Follow along in whatever version you prefer or in the pew bible on page 1122. Take the pew bible home if you don’t have a bible.
Two things before we begin today.
1.) This sermon is long. So get in an uncomfortable position. I tried to cut it down… but ran out of things I could cut. I’ve done my part. Now do yours ok?
2.) Preparing this sermon left me feeling quite cynical about eschatology. I literally read the entirety of Revelation and most of Daniel in preparation for this message, and you know what I discovered? Every single position on the end times is not clearly laid out in scripture. I was forced to reevaluate my position, and although I ultimately did not make any major shifts, I did come away with a much looser grip on my viewpoints. By the end of this sermon, I hope you follow my lead.
I.) The most difficult days to be a follower of Christ are still ahead. Greater than anything we’ve ever seen, so we must endure and not be afraid.
a. [Slide 5] 15 – So when you see the abomination of desolation – spoken about by Daniel the prophet – standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),
i. Jesus now answers their first question. When will all these things happen? When will the destruction of the temple occur?
ii. Jesus’ description of the event is absolutely harrowing.
iii. First of all, we need attempt to understand what this abomination of desolation is. Let’s go to Daniel chapter 9:24-27. Because this is the passage Jesus is referring to here.
1. As you will see, this is a prophetic vision, which is by nature, unclear.
2. We know that this is the record of the end of Jewish history. The Jewish age if you will.
3. Daniel’s vision is given clear bookends as to when this time period will begin and end. The problem is that we are not exactly sure what they mean.
4. [Slide 6] The first interpretational challenge is that we are told about seventy sevens. Now many have interpreted these as years. Seventy times 7 would be 490. So the entire Jewish age from each bookend would be 490 years. However, in scripture, in several places, this same expression (a period of 7) can talk about days and not years. In other words a literal week. However, since in Daniel 10 we see him specify that he didn’t eat for 3 weeks of days, perhaps we are meant to understand this as years.
5. The second interpretational challenge comes from what things are supposed to be accomplished by the end of the Jewish age. Ending rebellion, completing sinfulness, atonement for sins, perpetual or eternal righteousness, sealing up the prophetic vision and anointing a holy one or holy place. Some of these don’t seem to have been completed yet. Perhaps you could make the case that some of them have been partially fulfilled. And certainly some of them fulfilled in Christ and the church. But if this is speaking about the Jewish age, it would be odd for it to be completed by, predominantly, non-Jews.
6. [Slide 7] The third difficulty is when this Jewish age begins. It is said to begin when the decree was issued to rebuild Jerusalem. Isaiah seems to indicate that Cyrus would be the one to rebuild the city and the temple. However, historically we don’t see him ever decree it. We do see a man named Artaxerxes do this in Nehemiah 2, which would be around 445 BC.
7. 69 weeks in total would take us to the coming of a prince. The city would be built again but in distressful times, which clearly we see and understand the times of the Greeks and Romans were distressful times.
8. [Slide 8] At the 69th week the prince will be cut off and be left with nothing. Jesus’ death? Perhaps. It has always been peculiar to me as to why the vision divides 7 off of the other 62. Obviously that makes 69 but why divide them? And why here in verse 26 does the writer say 62 again? What happened after 7 weeks? Are these 49 consecutive years followed by a break of time that is undisclosed? It is hard to know exactly.
9. The city and the temple will be destroyed by the people of the coming prince? So Christians will destroy Jerusalem and the Temple? Perhaps there is a second prince? After all, the first prince has been cut off and is left with nothing. Some say this should be translated that the city and the temple will be destroyed with the coming prince, indicating that Jerusalem and the temple was destroyed at the same time that Christ was cut off… but these two events were separated by 40 years?… Somewhat difficult to know for sure here.
10. Whoever this prince is, his end will come quickly. And until the end of a war that we have not been told about up to this point, there will only be destruction. We are left to wonder what war is this, who are the players, is this prince good or bad? These answers are anything but clear. If this is talking about 70 AD, the war was not over quickly. Actually the Jewish Roman war lasted to about 135 AD. That is almost a 70 year war. So that is hard to mesh up here.
11. [Slide 9] This same prince will confirm, which does not mean create… it means strengthen or shore up. He will shore up a covenant with many for a week, and in the middle of that week he will bring sacrifices to a halt. Is this talking about a prince that will strengthen a peace treaty but in the middle of that peace break it and demand worship? The little horn? The Man of Lawlessness? Is this talking about Christ bringing sacrifices to an end after strengthening or fulfilling the Mosaic law and 3 years later bringing the sacrifices to an end? Both are very plausible. I would say that from the context of Daniel in chapter 8 and chapter 11, it seems that this is not a good prince and his purposes for stopping the sacrifices are not because the old covenant was fulfilled but some other more evil intent. But this is far less clear than I originally anticipated it was.
12. And on the wing of abominations comes one who will destroy until his decreed end. The translation of this last half of the verse is quite difficult, and most expositors will admit that we may not actually know precisely what is being said here.
13. I hope that I have given you sufficient reason to doubt your interpretation of this Daniel passage. Things that I have always been taught are not as cut and dry as I would like them to be. I still hold to many of them, but cautiously. And my advice is that you also hold to those things… Cautiously! Why?
iv. [Slide 10] Something we need to understand, is that the disciples thought that this sign that Jesus mentions from the book of Daniel, had already come to pass.
v. Antiochus the IV, a Selucid King from the time of the Greek Empire, had decreed that the Jewish rites and traditions would need to be stopped and ordered that all Jews worship Zeus the supreme god. He even set up an image of Zeus in the temple, and sacrificed pigs. Of course the Jews refused. He sent an army, destroyed Jerusalem, slaughtered 40,000 Jews and sold the same number into slavery.
vi. Can you see why they would have already thought that the sign from Daniel had happened?
vii. They had very good reasons to believe it!
viii. Jesus is obviously telling them that their interpretation was wrong. That it was only fulfilled in part by Antiochus IV.
ix. In fact there are at least 7 instances in the history of Israel where something that doesn’t belong in the holy of holies is placed or threatened to be placed there.
x. So how do the three basic viewpoints on the end times interpret this particular passage in Matthew?
1. A preterist sees this as Jesus prophesying the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in AD 70. Therefore they would see the abomination of desolation as the emptying of the Lord’s glory from the temple and the Roman Army looting the Holy of Holies. Interestingly enough the symbol of the legion that invaded was an eagle. On the wing of abominations…
2. A futurist would see this passage as still unfulfilled by the events of AD 70. That nothing stood in the temple, no idol. That this particular event has not occurred. And specifically will only occur when the Man of lawlessness, the Anti-Christ, the Little Horn will set up a covenant with Israel in the 70th week of Daniel, of which we are not yet in, and this will be the event, the catalyst that leads Israel to repent. They wake up.
3. A preterist-futurist would see shadows of this prophesy fulfilled in the AD 70 destruction, but must conclude that not all of this prophesy could have possibly been fulfilled in that event. And that there is some, still future time that this will be completed in totality.
xi. Finally, there is much disagreement over what Matthew’s comment (let the reader understand) actually means. Since everyone else is guessing, I’ll guess too. I believe Jesus describes largely a still future event and perhaps, in those days, the people of Israel will read the text of Matthew, Mark or Daniel or all three and realize what is happening. Perhaps this very passage we have read today will be instrumental in the conversion of thousands of Jews in the last days? Wouldn’t that be poetic?
b. [Slide 11] 16 – 20 – then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. The one on the roof must not come down to take anything out of his house and the one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.
i. One thing we know for sure about this time, is that it promises to be a harrowing experience.
ii. These descriptions all communicate roughly the same thing. There is haste to escape.
iii. Certainly this could be an AD 70 event. Although the Jews did not seek to flee, we have reasonable historical data to indicate that many if not all the Christians in Jerusalem fled around AD 68 during the Roman civil war in Rome.
iv. This is difficult for a futurist. If they conclude that this passage is ONLY talking about a future time, then Jesus never answered the first question of the disciples. He skips over a destruction of the city and temple that they would see in their lifetime to tell them about a destruction of the temple and city that they would never see? If you remember back when we looked at Isaiah 7 and the prophesy that a virgin or maiden would conceive a bear a son and his name would be Emmanuel. We noted there that a sign for Ahaz that he would not be alive to see seemed to be a little silly. We saw instead that it was a double prophesy. Yes about the coming Christ, but also about Isaiah’s son. God used the ambiguous meaning of the word for virgin to have a double fulfillment of a prophesy. It is the same thing here. Why would Jesus give the disciples a sign they would never see?
v. But to the futurist’s credit, notice that Jesus does not specify the city of Jerusalem. Instead he broadly mentions all of Judea. This is somewhat problematic for harmonizing it one to one to Daniel 9 and even harmonizing it with Jesus’ description of the destruction of the temple. Jesus seems to be talking about a time when ALL Judea is in trouble. And the events will happen so quickly, that they must act as soon as they see the signs or they will be swept away.
vi. For a preterist this is difficult to mesh with the events of AD 70, in that it took 70 years for Rome to put down the rebellion. That is quick in some sense, but well beyond the time of being pregnant. Even the fall of the temple and the city took over 4 years to complete.
vii. But what Jesus says next seems to be almost a guarantee that the events of which He speaks are not fulfilled in totality by AD 70.
c. [Slide 12] 21 – 22 – For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
i. In all of this discourse, these two verses are lynch pins for the futurist. The suffering Jesus describes, even if it is only for Jews, is beyond anything they have experienced and it is greater than anything they will ever experience. It certainly seems like Jesus is talking about some future and peculiar time of suffering. Unlike anything the Jews, and dare I say, the world has ever seen. A time of great trouble. One that John talks about coming upon the WHOLE WORLD. A time that is destined to last for a full week, a full 7 years but is cut short for the sake of the elect.
ii. Within the futurist and preterist futurist camps there are differences of opinion on what this may mean. Some say the cutting short does not apply to the church but is referencing the Jewish elect saved during the tribulation, some say that the cutting short is referring to some sort of mid-trib or pre-wrath gathering of the elect, others say the elect endure through the entire tribulation period but the time allotted for it would not be the full 7 years.
iii. Preterists say that the suffering at that time was greater than anything the Jews had ever faced in the city of Jerusalem… But once again, nowhere does Jesus say Jerusalem. He refers to all of Judea. And historically, I’m not quite sure AD 70 was the worst tragedy to have come upon Judea. Many died, but they have had their temple destroyed before. They had their city destroyed before. They had many killed before. And since, of course, if you believe that national Israel has a place in God’s future plan, it is hard to argue that the events of AD 70 hold a candle to the Holocaust.
d. [Slide 13] Passage Truth: So in this passage so far, what is Jesus wanting His disciples to see, and what is Matthew wanting the Jews to see, living prior to AD 70? It is obvious that Jesus is attempting to warn His disciples that difficult days lie ahead. This isn’t a new message. He has told them before that as people have hated Him, as His disciples, they certainly would also be hated. But beyond His disciples Jesus seems to indicate, regardless of your eschatological position, that for Israel specifically, and even for the elect, difficult days are approaching.
e. Passage Application: The application is really a carryover from the previous section we discussed. Jesus’ passion was for His disciples not to be afraid and not to be deceived. To continue being the disciples that He had called them to be. Even when things get terrible. Indeed He assures them that things will get terrible. But that does not mean they are permitted to fear. Nor quit. Nor lose hope. Because their hope is not in the success of some earthly Kingdom or some earthly King…
f. [Slide 14] Broader Biblical Truth: So for us today, even though this may go against some eschatological positions, I think it is fairly biblical to conclude that the world will get pretty terrible before the end. It will become far more difficult to be a follower of Christ. It will become far more dangerous to be what He has called us to be. No matter how new a Christian you are, the most difficult days of your life are approaching. Jesus guarantees that we will face trouble in this world.
g. Broader Biblical Application: So our application is the same. Even though the worst is before us… on the other side of the worst… is the best. On the other side of this life is a life that will make the fears we endured and the trials we overcame be but a hazy memory of a nightmare. Jesus said to seek His Kingdom first. And friends, having this goal in mind… produces the attitude found in scripture, where we consider any suffering endured in this life, not worthy to be compared with the majesty of the glory that is to come.
[Slide 51 (blank)] But Jesus does not merely wish to warn His disciples about the coming suffering on the earth. In fact, we should probably see these events of physical hardship as infinitely less cataclysmic than what He is about to discuss. He passionately warns His disciples… PAY ATTENTION! Something far worse than physical anguish is coming.
II.) The most difficult days to be a follower of Christ are still ahead. Greater than anything we’ve ever seen, so we must endure and not be deceived.
a. [Slide 16] 23-24 – Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ! Or ‘There he is!’ do not believe him. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
i. Jesus not only told the disciples not to fear the times ahead, but also to not be deceived.
ii. He tells them that at this time of great difficulty physically, there will also be great difficulty spiritually. There will be many who claim to be the Messiah or are false prophets. They will lead many people astray by performing great signs and wonders.
iii. Drawing power from forces that are not God, they will draw men away from the truth.
iv. And such deception and such power will be so convincing that Jesus says that if it were possible, they would deceive even the elect.
v. Jesus’ construction of this sentence presupposes that it is not possible to deceive the elect. Jesus is making a ridiculous statement to emphasize the depth and strength of the deception. It would be like us saying, he is such a good salesman that he could sell a glass of water to a drowning man. These men, these false messiahs, these false prophets are so good at their deception and so powerful that they could sell their lies to the elect. It is the same statement. It is ridiculous but in the ridiculous there is a terrifying truth.
vi. What hope would a nominal follower of Christ have in such a time? What hope would someone who is a pretender among us have? What hope would someone who has come to God on their terms and not on His have?
vii. Jesus is describing a time of great apostasy. A time when the wheat will ripen and turn brown, and the weeds will remain green. A time when the distinction between the visible church and the invisible church will become apparent.
viii. Jesus is describing a time when God will gather his bride together and separate from among them the weeds, the goats.
b. [Slide 17] 25 – Remember, I have told you ahead of time.
i. Jesus cautions them.
ii. PAY ATTENTION! REMEMBER! TAKE HEED!
iii. I have told you ahead of time!
iv. I have warned you. Remember my words.
v. But wait a second. If Jesus presupposes the elect cannot be deceived, then why warn them at all?
vi. Is Jesus and Matthew talking to the elect only? Judas was among the 12 at this time. And Matthew is writing to all Jews. So from the perspective of this text we see Matthew writing to the elect AND those whose status is unknown. Jesus also speaks to both groups.
vii. And perhaps Jesus speaks to both groups today as well.
c. [Slide 18] 26-28 – So then if someone says to you ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or ‘look he is in the inner rooms’ do not believe him. For just like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
i. Don’t be deceived by the coming of false Christ’s in various locations. Why?
ii. Because Christ’s coming will be like the lightening. We know where the conditions for lightning are right. But none, especially during the first century could predict exactly when a bolt of lightning would strike. In other words Jesus is saying that His coming will be in a predictable location and it will be bright, vibrant, but no one will be able to say, he will come now! And be right.
iii. The second statement predicts along the same lines as the first. It is obvious where the corpse is… because vultures gather in its location.
1. You’ve probably been driving along a road and seen what looks like a person crouched on the road. As you approach the person spreads its wings and shows you that it was not a person at all but a group of turkey vultures huddled over a carcass.
2. Jesus is saying that when the time comes for Him to arrive, no one will be wondering where. No one will be wondering who.
3. Everyone will be surprised by the when, but what and where will be sure.
iv. This is particularly problematic for a premillennial position to deal with. Because if there is a 7 year tribulation period, or a tribulation period at all, that precedes Jesus’ return, the when of that return would be highly predictable.
d. [Slide 19] Passage Truth: So what is Jesus teaching His disciples? There will be a time of great apostasy. The works of darkness will be so great, that the visible church will be splintered, and only the elect will remain faithful.
e. Passage Application: But His application remains. Pay attention. Take heed of all that I have said. And do not be deceived. Hold fast. Endure!
f. [Slide 20] Broader Biblical Truth: We should not be assuming that the gospel’s impact is growing to the point that all people everywhere know the truth. In fact, quite the opposite. While we have the promise that the gospel will be proclaimed to all people, to the uttermost parts of the earth, we also have the guarantee that there will be so many voices that before the end, many will be deceived and fall prey to false gospels. Gospels that even look so similar to the truth, that they are difficult to discern that they are false.
g. Broader Biblical Application: So what does that mean for us? The message is the same as it was for the disciples. To hold fast. To endure. To continue to believe, trust, depend, and place our hope in Jesus. Do not be deceived.
Therefore we must endure. Not just physically, courageously facing all that men may do to us, but we must endure spiritually. Holding fast to sound doctrine, knowing that there will be great deceivers, men and demons alike, attempting and succeeding in shattering the visible church.
Again we are called to endure. If you can understand this, then the enigma of the Olivet discourse will be solved and you will see that Jesus is not trying to give a lesson on the end times, but is simply pleading with any who would read His words that they might endure. The world will get worse and there will be a great apostasy but do not be afraid and to not be deceived.
I would guess there are a few groups in the room today. Those who hold their end times position rigidly, those who hold it loosely, and those who haven’t really thought about it. Ironically, those who haven’t thought about it may the group that is the best off.
If you are a pretribulational premillennialist, are you ready to endure in your faith, even if Jesus doesn’t come to gather you up before the tribulation begins?
If you are a mid trib or pre wrath, are you willing to endure if God does pour out His wrath, even while you yet live? Will you endure if there is no millennium?
If you are an amillennialist or postmillennialist, are you willing to endure through a literal fulfillment of the judgments in Revelation?
What I am asking is, what if you are wrong… will your faith still endure? Because difficult times are coming… times of great suffering, even for the elect. We need to be ready.
This particular time of year, more than any other time, we know and are very familiar with the sufferings of our Savior. He endured not simply a criminal’s cross, not simply the pain and anguish of one of the most brutal forms of execution that has ever been conceived, he endured the wrath of God. He bore our sins in His body.
Is the disciple greater than His master? Should we not also expect to be treated in the same way? Are you ready to endure great suffering for the name of Christ? Are you ready to rejoice at enduring that pain for His name? Would your faith endure? These are hard questions, but questions we must ask ourselves. Why?
Because there will be a great apostasy. The visible church will splinter into sheep and goats. Into weeds and wheat. Into good fish, and bad fish. So which are you?
We spend a lot of time talking about this here at CBC. And given our text this morning, It leads me to conclude that we probably don’t talk about it near enough. It is a delicate balance. I don’t want to preach and teach in such a way that people always feel as though their salvation is in question. We know there is now no condemnation in Christ. And we know that if you are in Christ, you are secure forever and will endure.
But on the flipside of that same coin, we have to understand that those who are secure in Christ, those who will endure, are being changed into the image of Christ. We are being changed from dead to alive. We are a new creation. Old has gone and new has come. In short, the kind of faith that has saved a man from sin’s penalty, is also saving a man from sin’s power, and will eventually save a man from sin’s very presence.
There are many false gospels that exist today. The gospels of humanism where God becomes a means to human happiness whether in this life or the next. And making a deadly combination with this teaching comes easy believism where all you must do is ask Jesus into your heart, pray a simple prayer, believe a list of facts, and God is required to grant to you, because of what you said and what you did, an eternal place with Him in glory, and it doesn’t matter how you live, because He has granted to you eternally secure fire insurance. We now see the ramifications of such a gospel message in our country, who is said to be 70% Christian but cheers the right to commit infanticide. 70% Christian but has an identical divorce rate as those outside the church. 70% Christian but full of idolatry, adultery, sexual immorality, hatred, envy, jealousy, covetousness and blasphemy. Why? Because if salvation is a prayer that I prayed, and God wants me to be happy, God would never tell me to do something that would make me unhappy.
But the real gospel, the ancient gospel, the gospel that wasn’t taught 100 years ago, but has been taught since creation. This gospel is, God alone acts to save a man. He brings him from death to life. God’s power and passion then move to change a man into the image of His Son. And in His power and passion we endure in faith and in good works. And one day God alone will clothe men in a new body and free them, forever, from the nightmare that was sin and death.
Do you see the difference between a gospel based on humans and a gospel based on scripture? One puts emphasis on man and what he gets, the other places emphasis on God and what He gives.
Does man do anything to receive this God-given salvation? If he does, it isn’t much. Does man benefit from God given salvation? Exceedingly and abundantly beyond what we could ever ask for or imagine.
Friends if you perceive the gospel to be about you, when the end time comes and the great suffering is upon us, you will join those who run to the wilderness to see Jesus. You will flock to the inner rooms to see him. You will bow to the beast because you won’t know it to be him. He will sell you a gospel that is so much like what you believe, that you won’t know the difference.
But if you see the gospel, the real gospel, that is all about Him regardless of what you get from it, when the end times comes and the great sufferings are upon us, you will hold fast, waiting for the real return of Christ, enduring through it all. And you will sing with joy in your heart as they snuff out your life.
Can you honestly say that it isn’t approaching? Do you honestly believe that the time is not yet ripe? There are things happening in this world that are making it clear that the forces of darkness are on the move. There are, even now, people in America communing with demons who openly claim to be demons. They demand worship. Science is more and more leading, not to a godless explanation of the universe as it has attempted to prove for centuries, but to a future where all will believe the earth was created, but by who… now that is the question. The mask of the dark ones is coming off, and they are baring their teeth. The deception is growing and the visible church, for the most part, is taking the bait.
My friends, I do not say these things to scare you… the opposite actually. So that you might be shocked into action. That you may be ready. That you would cast off your stagnation and apathy. May the elect of God rise up and realize that the time for the coming of the Kingdom of our Lord approaches. Even now He could be opening the scroll.
The only question I have for you… you who are elect or status unknown is this…
Are you ready?